1. CCRR in general: Nature and approbation by the Church
  2. CCRR of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate: Their development
  3. CCRR of 1982
  4. The Founder and the CCRR
  5. The Superiors General and the Constitutions

In the religious literature of the first centuries, the word “rule” (regula) means a way of life according to a predetermined model: the lifestyle of monks or of a master of the spiritual life, but above all the life of Christ and his Apostles. Gradually, the “rule” took on a more conventional meaning and applied to a whole set of texts, both spiritual and organizational, designed to structure and sustain the life of a community: the Rules of St. Basil, of St. Benedict, of St. Augustine.

In a more recent era (the 16th century), the clerics of the regular life (Jesuits, Theatines) were approved – no longer in virtue of a rule which enjoyed the prestige of the holiness of its author and its many centuries of existence – but rather of a “rule of life” (formula vitæ, forma vivendi), which was an expression of the original inspiration and of the spiritual and pastoral experience of a founding core group. Soon, however, these founders moved on to the writing of “constitutions” (constitutiones) which developed their charism and its living out in a more systematic and complete way. Then, alongside the constitutions there appeared “rules” (regulæ) which explained those basic texts and adapted them to concrete circumstances. That is how, from the 17th century on, the new congregations with simple vows, (Lazarists, Passionists, and later the Oblates of Mary Immaculate) produced “Constitutions and Rules” which were subsequently approved by the Holy See.

The Code of Canon Law of 1983 presents the constitutions as “the basic code” which must contain the essential norms concerning the “nature, purpose, spirit and character of the institute” (Canon 578), and “the governance of the institute, the discipline of the members, the admission and formation of members, and the proper object of their sacred bonds” (Canon 587,§ 1). The other elements more subject to change, or “rules”, are to be found in other compilations (Canon 587, § 4).

If the formulation of a rule or of constitutions is based upon the spiritual experience of a founder and of an original group of disciples, it generally happens that an authoritative intervention on the part of the Church soon comes to give its stamp of approval, thus authenticating the original divine inspiration. “Again, in docile response to the promptings of the Holy Spirit the hierarchy accepts rules of religious life which are presented for its approval by outstanding men and women, improves them further and then officially authorizes them. It uses its supervisory and protective authority too to ensure that religious institutes established all over the world for building up the Body of Christ may develop and flourish in accordance with the spirit of their founders.” [1]The approbation of the Church in the initial stages of monasticism and other forms of consecrated life was given through the authority of the bishop. Sometimes the two authorities functioned as one, since the bishop added the weight of his authority to that of founder and author of the rule. Subsequently, we see the councils and, in the East, the civil authority, intervene to establish norms to be observed by all those men and women who bound themselves by vow to follow Christ. Already in the 9th century, and more frequently from the 12th century on, “pontifical protection” began to be established. Direct dependence on the Holy See was granted to monasteries to withdraw them from subjection to secular princes and to certain bishops, thus freeing them to better pursue their goals. From this time on, the official legislation for religious was issued either by the popes or by the great councils and it was by pontifical approbation that the authenticity of the charism of the founder was recognized. It also guaranteed the legitimacy of foundations and the fact that the rules were in conformity with the laws of the Church.

In the past, approbation by the Holy See has taken various forms, some more solemn than others: bulls, briefs, decrees. In this way, by extending its “protection” to religious congregations, the Holy See emphasized their dependence on it and the necessity for these institutes to periodically revise their constitutions according to the progressive development of the common law of the Church. That was the case especially after the promulgation of the Code of 1917, then after the Second Vatican Council and after the Code of 1983. Through the constitution Lumen Gentium the Council brought into sharp relief the theological significance and the ecclesial dimension of the religious life. [2] In its wake, the decree Perfectæ caritatis invited religious to implement an appropriate renewal which would deal with “a constant return to the source of the whole of the Christian life and to the primitive inspiration of the institutes, and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time”. [3]

In 1966, the motu proprio Ecclesiæ sanctæ gave concrete directives on how to successfully carry out this reform. These directives were designed to lead to the elimination of outdated elements contained in the constitutions and the kind of adaptation which would bring the manner of life, of prayer and of work “in harmony with the present-day physical and psychological condition of the members. It should also be in harmony with the needs of the apostolate, in the measure that the nature of each institute requires, with the requirements of culture and with social and economic circumstances. This should be the case everywhere, but especially in mission territories.” [4]

Above all, these orientations in postconciliar legislation aim to underline the profound reality of the “following of Christ” (sequela Christi) and show how the concrete norms which direct the religious life flow from theological and spiritual considerations. As for the ecclesiastical authority, it declares unequivocally the duty it has of ensuring that the constitutions remain faithful to the charism of the founders, since this charism is not a gift made to only one particular religious family but to the entire Church, of which it is one of the most precious fruits.


a. First outline: 1816

From the time of his very first letter to Father Tempier, on October 9, 1815, Eugene de Mazenod was already portraying the general outline of his apostolic project. He specified: “We will live together in one house, that which I have bought, under a Rule we shall adopt with common accord and for which we will draw the elements from the statutes of St. Ignatius, of St. Charles for his Oblates, of St. Philip Neri, of St. Vincent de Paul and of the Blessed Liguori”. [5]

The young Founder, who was above all a man of action and not of theories, did not establish a definite and unchangeable program at the outset. While keeping the essentials in view, he knew how to remain flexible and open to the inspirations of the Holy Spirit through the appeals, the needs, the various circumstances of the life of his “little Society” – “little” as he liked to call it, not only in number, but also in his original intention.

The first official text of the Society is dated January 25, 1816, the very day of the gathering of the first companions in the old Carmelite convent of Aix. It is a Request for authorization addressed to the Vicars General of Aix [6]. We can already discern in it the main themes of the future Rules: the Preface, (the lamentable state of affairs in Provence); the first part on the ends of the Society (parish missions and sanctification of the Society’s members); the second part or rule of life (ministry and community life); the third part, on the direction and administration of the society. No mention is made of religious life, but it is discreetly suggested as the ideal. Finally, we should also take note of the commitment “to persevere all one’s life” in the society. In addition, some statutes and rules were developed during the years 1816 and 1817, as several documents of this era bear witness: letters of the Founder, various collections of local practices and the Request for legal status from the Minister of the Interior on behalf of the “Society of the Missionaries for the southern regions of France.” [7]

b. First complete edition: 1818

The request of August 16, 1818 from the Bishop of Digne asking them to take on responsibility for the pastoral care of Notre-Dame du Laus was a turning-point in the life of the Society. A new foundation in another diocese brought with it a readjustment of the original project which foresaw only one house. The issue was so important that the Founder resolved to call a meeting of all those who were then part of his little Society, even the youngest who had not yet received Sacred Orders. “It was in order to make them understand that since they had been called to another diocese to make a new foundation, it became necessary to broaden the rule which governed us and to set about drawing up more comprehensive constitutions, to bind us more closely together, to establish a line of authority, in a word, to coordinate everything in such a way that there existed only one will and that all were animated by the same spirit in their conduct. Everyone was of this opinion and they asked me to set about seriously and without delay to draw up the constitution and the rule which we would need.” [8]

Eugene de Mazenod withdrew to the family manor at Saint-Laurent-du-Verdon in order to find the solitude required to write this Rule [9]. Then, upon his return to Aix, he presented the text to the members of the Society during the annual retreat which took place from October 23 to November 1 of 1818. He preached this retreat himself by commenting each day on the proposed Rule.

The introduction of the vows into this rule gave rise to serious difficulties on the part of several of his confreres. The majority of the priests wanted the Society to remain a simple association of diocesan missionaries and to retain their full freedom of remaining with the Society or leaving it. After having called together the three scholastics, Eugene de Mazenod read them the Rule, especially the paragraph which dealt with the vows, and he asked them what they thought of it. He then granted them a deliberative vote in the general assembly of the community and submitted his project to all the members. It was the first General Chapter of the Congregation and it was on that occasion, by a vote of six to four that the vows were accepted into the Congregation [10]. On November 1, 1818, everyone except two members made their religious profession through the vows of chastity, obedience, and perseverance before the Founder, duly authorized to receive these vows. On November 13, 1818, the Founder obtained from the diocesan authority a new and definitive approbation of the Institute and of the Rule which had been adopted. This text of 1818 bears the title, “Constitutions and Rules of the Society of the Missionaries of Provence.” It is made up of a foreword and of three parts: I. The end of the Institute and its ministries; II. The personal obligations of the missionaries (spirit of poverty, vows of chastity, obedience and perseverance) and the practices they were bound to as a community; III. The government of the Society and the training of its members in formation.

Already in his letter of October 9, 1815, to Father Tempier, Eugene de Mazenod indicated the sources from which he intended to draw the elements which would be the driving force for the life and the ministry of the future missionaries. In fact, the Rule of the Redemptorists is the main source of our Rule of 1818. To that, we can add the other rules mentioned in the letter to Father Tempier, the practices of the Company of Priests of Saint-Sulpice, The Practice of Christian Perfection by Alfonso Rodriguez and a few other authors.

Eugene de Mazenod’s Rule also has a biblical flavor ? and in particular, it takes on a very evident Pauline coloring. Numerous borrowed texts notwithstanding, the first Rule is remarkable for the passages which flow directly from the pen and the heart of the Founder. A few central themes such as love of the Church, recognition of the need for salvation, zeal for souls, the spirit of reparation, the striving for perfection would find their culmination a few years later in that characteristically Mazenodian monument, the Preface of 1826, a feature which remains even today the clearest expression of the Oblate charism.

c. The first text approved by Rome: 1826-1827

The text of 1818 already contained the substance which would be retained in subsequent versions. Several manus of the following years have been conserved the archives, and they bear witness to an ongoing work of correction and adaptation of the first text. [11]Thus, with the entry of the first brother in 1820, a paragraph on “coadjutor brothers” was added. The vow of poverty was introduced in October of 1821 by the second General Chapter. The Preface appeared in its almost definitive form in 1824 or in 1825. Finally, in 1825, the Congregation went beyond the boundaries of Provence with a fourth foundation, a house at Nîmes. The Congregation changed its name and adopted the title, “Oblates of St. Charles”.

In view of the internal and external dangers which threatened the future of the young Institute, the decision was taken to seek pontifical approbation. With this goal in mind, the text of the Constitutions and Rules was revised, corrected and completed by the Founder. It was then entrusted to some Latinists, notably, to Fathers Albini and Courtès. The Founder went to Rome himself to solicit the desired approbation. [12] The text underwent only some minor changes on the part of the Cardinals’ commission entrusted with the task of examining it. The main change was the name of the Society which from that time on took the title “Congregation of the Missionary Oblates of the Most Holy and Immaculate Virgin Mary”. On February 17, 1826, Pope Leo XII approved the Congregation and its Constitutions. The Founder rejoiced: “Somewhat puny as we are, being weak and few in number, we nonetheless have an existence in the Church no less than that of the most celebrated bodies… It is thus we are constituted.” [13]

By the following year, the Constitutions and Rules approved by Leo XII were printed and distributed to all the Oblates. It is fitting that we should point out an important modification of the previous French texts. The previous texts read: “They will not take on the direction of seminaries”. The text of 1826-1827 deliberately omits these words because there was already a question of accepting the major seminary of Marseilles. This detail is indicative of the Founder’s readiness to respond to new needs and of his obedience to the Pope who had deliberately seen to it that this ministry should be listed in the pontifical brief. Nevertheless, the paragraph on the direction of seminaries would only come later on after a period of lived experience.

d. The changes of 1843

The General Chapter of 1843 (July 10-13) introduced only one change to the Constitutions of 1826-1827; it had to do with the frequency of General Chapters which, up to that time, were scheduled to be held every three years. Faced with the difficulties of getting together for meetings at such short intervals, and with the developments which led the Congregation to establish itself in the British Isles and in Canada, the Founder himself proposed having chapters every six years and to have corresponding terms of six years for the elected officers. The change was unanimously approved and confirmed by a decree of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Regulars of March 14, 1846 and an Apostolic Brief of March 20, 1846.

e. First revisions: 1850-1853

The first real revision of the Constitutions and Rules took place during the General Chapter held in Marseilles from August 26 to August 31 of 1850. It was prompted by the desire to gear the text to the burgeoning expansion of the Congregation and the new works that had been accepted. The revision was prepared by a special commission made up of Fathers Henry Tempier, Hippolyte Courtès, Casimir Aubert, Ambroise Vincent and Charles Bellon.

The changes made fall into two categories: 1. The addition of new paragraphs on the direction of major seminaries and on the division of the Congregation into provinces; included as well is an appendix on the foreign missions. 2. More than two hundred modifications, additions and changes of articles in the existing text.

In January of 1851, it was the Founder himself, accompanied by Father Tempier, who went to Rome to request the approbation of the revised Constitutions and Rules. This was granted by a decree of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Regulars on March 20, 1851. A short time later (March 28), an Apostolic Brief was issued giving renewed approbation of the Congregation and its Constitutions. For a variety of reasons, the promulgation of this document did not take place until February 17, 1853, in Marseilles. Subsequently, it was issued to the whole Congregation by a circular letter dated August 2, which accompanied each copy of the newly printed Constitutions. [14]

The Chapter of 1850 seemed to be of such extraordinary importance that that Father Achille Rey called it “a founding General Chapter”. In fact, Bishop de Mazenod could look upon it as his crowning achievement. This was the last revision of the Constitutions carried out in his lifetime.


a. The second revision: 1867-1894

Shortly after Bishop de Mazenod’s death, his immediate successor, Father Joseph Fabre, learned from Rome that the Congregation did not enjoy the privilege of exemption as the Founder always thought it did. Consequently, a certain number of points in the Constitutions and Rules were brought up by the pro-secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Regulars and discussed in an audience with Pius IX on August 14, 1863. These were communicated to the Superior General through the Procurator General, Father Ambroise Tamburini, and were the object of a decree dated January 5, 1866. There followed a revision of the text by a General Chapter held in Autun from the 5th to the 18th of August 1867.

This work bore special fruit in the form of two new paragraphs: the first on taking charge of parishes, the other on the Procurator to the Holy See. In addition, about thirty additions and minor changes were made here and there.

The acts of the General Chapter of 1867 containing the modified Constitutions were presented in Rome in 1868. The Sacred Congregation judged them rather severely as to their conformity to their observations of 1866. Consequently, the General Administration had to revise the Capitular Acts before resubmitting them to the Holy See. On January 10, 1870, one month after the opening of the first Vatican Council, the decree of approbation was finally signed. [15]

The Chapters of 1873, 1879 and 1887 did nothing more than refine the revision of 1867. For various reasons, it was not until after the Chapter of 1893 that a new edition of the Constitutions and Rules was printed. It was issued by Mame printers in Tours in 1894 with a letter from the new Superior General, Father Louis Soullier, as an introduction. The letter was dated February 17, and it explained that these new Rules were a revision of those of 1853 modified by the General Chapter of 1867 and approved by the Holy See in 1870. It contained nine hundred and three articles and a certain number of documents, either in the introduction or in the appendix. Finally, by Circular number 70, dated March 19, 1899, Father Cassien Augier, Superior General, promulgated the acts of that Chapter as revised by the Chapter of 1898 – arranged according to the order of the articles in the rule book, which rules it rendered more precise and complete.

b. The third revision: 1908-1910

The life span of the 1894 text was not of long duration. New norms dealing with institutes in simple vows grew more numerous toward the end of the pontificate of Leo XIII and at the beginning of the reign of Pius X. At the same time, the jurisprudence of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Regulars was developing. As for the General Chapter of 1906, after having made a few changes in the text of our Constitutions, it petitioned the Holy See for an approbation of this text. [16] The response was not what they expected. It called into question the accurate correspondence of the revision of 1867 with the observations made by the Sacred Congregation in 1866. Moreover, the Holy See required that in order to conform to recent legislation, the Oblates should undertake a complete revision of the Constitutions. Thus it was that the Chapter of 1908, called to elect a new Superior General, became, like the Chapter of 1850, one of the important Chapters in terms of revising the Constitutions and Rules.

The Chapter’s task had been prepared by a consultation of the whole Congregation and by the work of Fathers Joseph Lemius and Simon Scharsch who were the main authors of the revision. This work was motivated by the desire to conform to the canonical norms of the Church and to be faithful to the Founder’s original project.

The results distinguished themselves by the addition of two important paragraphs: the one treating of foreign missions and the other dealing with scholasticates. Other important paragraphs were suppressed: one concerning a directory for the missions and another which dealt with the moderator of scholastics. There were an additional hundred amendments in other articles.

The approbation of the Holy See first took the form of a decree of the Sacred Congregation for Bishops and Regulars on the 21 of December 1909; and subsequently by an Apostolic Brief dated September 7, 1910. As a result, the new text could be printed in 1910, published under the name of the General House in Rome. It contained eight hundred and thirty nine articles divided into three sections and, for the first time, numbered in a continuous fashion. The volume also contained a number of appendices – namely, the previous briefs of approbation and two letters of the Founder. This was the third revision of the Constitutions. [17]

c. The fourth revision: 1920-1928

At the time of the appearance of the text of 1910, the drafting of the Code of Canon Law, begun under Pius X and finished under Benedict XV in 1917 was already in progress. The Code dealt at length with religious. In virtue of Canon 489, the Code abrogated all preions of the Constitutions and Rules of religious that might be contrary to the common law of the Church. Shortly after the Code came into force, the Sacred Congregation for Religious ordered Religious Institutes to revise their Constitutions within five years and bring them into conformity with the Code. This constituted a call to send our Constitutions back to the worktable scarcely ten years after the previous revision. Two General Chapters, that of 1920 and that of 1926, dedicated most of their time to this task.

In fact, the revision undertaken by the Chapter of 1920 proved to be so extensive that the Oblates became aware of the impossibility of carrying it to completion within the allotted time span and with the care required. Consequently, this led to the establishment of a postcapitular commission made up of members of the General Administration [18]. In July of 1925, the fruit of their work was submitted to the scrutiny of the members of the Congregation. This enabled them to prepare a definitive project for the Chapter of 1926. As a result, this twenty-first chapter, the “Centenary Chapter”, became the chapter of the fourth revision of the Rule. It took place from September 20 to October 18. Certain changes were required in virtue of the new Code of Canon Law; others were demanded by the spirit of the Code and already-existing articles. A third category of minor alterations dealt with adaptation to the requirements of contemporary times or were simply editorial changes to improve the text.

A postcapitular commission made up of Fathers Euloge Blanc, Auguste Estève and Albert Perbal put the finishing touches on the text in preparation for its presentation to the Holy See at the end of April 1927. The Sacred Congregation of Religious asked for only three changes and issued the decree of approbation on July 2, 1927. The General Council found, however, that this decree was too plain and colorless in view of the importance of this revision. They, therefore, asked the Holy Father for a more solemn approbation. This was granted to them by Apostolic Letters from Pius XI and under the form of a Brief dated May 21, 1928. [19]

d. The fifth revision: 1959-1982

The interim edition of 1966. Of all the texts, the one of 1928 has enjoyed the longest life. However, at the Chapter of 1953, the new political, social and religious conditions created by the Second World War and the extraordinary development of the Congregation raised the question of another revision [20]. As a result, a postcapitular commission presided by Father Joseph Rousseau was given the task of preparing it [21].

The General Chapter of 1959 began the examination of the text presented to it [22] and assumed the task of reworking it. But, in the face of the amount of work required and, perhaps, intuiting the profound changes which the recently convoked Council would bring, it suspended its work and confided to a new postcapitular commission the task of drawing up another text for the following Chapter. At the same time, it enjoined the commission to especially maintain the distinction between the Constitutions and the Rules, a distinction which was later required by the conciliar documents on religious life [23]. This commission, under the presidency of Father Gerard Fortin, invited the Congregation to work with them by submitting their suggestions and desired changes. A first project was born. Radically reshaped in accord with the observations submitted by the Congregation, it was replaced in 1965 by a second draft called the Textus Revisus. [24]

It happened, however, that the Chapter opened on January 25, 1966, less than two months after the closure of the Council. A new view of the Church and its relationship with the world called for a new look at religious life and missionary activity. Consequently, the Chapter itself preferred to undertake the drawing up of a text. Within the space of two months, the capitulars accomplished a tremendous task [25]. Never before had a Chapter dared to carry out such a radical revision of the Constitutions and Rules. In fact, the new edition looked more like a total recasting rather than a simple revision of a long-established text. Some people even felt justified in speaking of “new” Constitutions. As for the text of the Founder, only the Preface was conserved in its original form as a family heirloom and an essential expression of the Oblate ideal. For the rest, the capitulars strove to translate the Founder’s thinking into modern language. Moreover, the text emphasized those values to which today’s world is particularly sensitive and which found an echo in the Council documents: dialogue, participation, co-responsibility, authority as service. [26]

The Constitutions and Rules, accepted by an almost unanimous vote, were promulgated on August 2, 1966 by the Superior General, Father Léo Deschâtelets [27]. The Holy See approved them as an interim rule. Just like all the other religious Institutes, our subsequent General Chapter was to review them in the light of our lived experience in view of a revision and a definitive approbation.

Towards the definitive text: 1966-1980. However, the 1972 capitulars judged that the experimentation permitted by Ecclesiæ sanctæ (1966) had not been long enough and decided to prolong it until the next chapter. Nevertheless, as a logical follow-up to the Chapter of 1966, the 1972 Chapter produced four documents which witnessed to the development of the life of the Congregation and of the Church during the first years after the Council and the period of experimentation with the interim Constitutions [28]. These booklets were favorably received in the Congregation and became a new source for the pending definitive text.

The extraordinary Chapter of 1974, brought on by the resignation of the Superior General, came too soon. Consequently, the Sacred Congregation for Religious granted us permission to prolong experimentation under the Constitutions of 1966 as amended in 1972 and 1974, until the following Chapter, the Chapter of 1980. As a result, the Chapter of 1974 decided to create a postcapitular commission entrusted with the task of preparing a revised text based on the 1966 text. This text would be submitted to the 1980 Chapter and ultimately to the Holy See [29].

The commission came into existence the following year in February of 1975 [30]. The commission, ultimately comprising eight members, was made up of: Fathers Alexandre Taché, as president, Paul Sion, as secretary, Marius Bobichon, Jean Drouart, Ruben Elizondo, Theobald Kneifel, Michael O’Reilly and Frederick Sackett. In 1979, it benefited from the help of two experts: Louis-Philippe Normand and Alfred Hubenig, in drawing up the final text.Over a period of five years, it held seven plenary sessions. The revision took place in three stages: first, a preliminary survey (1975-1976) [31]; then, the drawing up of a first draft (1977-1978) [32]; and finally, the drawing up of the precapitular draft (1979) [33], followed by a final consultation of the Congregation (1979-1980). The commission received many comments, critical observations and suggestions from fellow Oblates. It was also able to benefit from the results of the congress on the charism of the Founder held in May of 1976 [34] and of the intercapitular meeting of the Provincials in April 1978. Finally, it also took into consideration recommendations made by the standing committee on formation, the finance committee and the General Council with which it maintained regular contact during the entire course of its work.

The definitive text of 1982. A review of the draft of the new Constitutions absorbed the time of the 1980 Chapter from November 6 to December 3, the day when the final text was unanimously approved. A postcapitular commission made up of Fathers Alexander Taché, as president, Paul Sion, as secretary, Francis George, Francis Morrisey and René Motte set to work to polish the English and French texts. They were passed on to the General Council to be submitted to the Holy See at the end of January 1981. The Holy See presented its observations in March of 1982. A few months of dialogue resulted in the approbation from the Holy See on July 3 of 1982 [35] and in the “decree promulgating the Constitutions and Rules” issued by the Superior General, Father Fernand Jetté on October 28, 1982 [36]. Finally, it became possible to print the text of the Constitutions in French, English and Spanish at the Notre-Dame Printing House in Richelieu, Quebec, Canada. The printed text appeared in January of 1983. Translations in other languages followed shortly after.

The Constitutions and Rules of 1982

The text of the Constitutions of 1982, in large part, was drawn from the Constitutions of 1966, revised mainly in the light of the capitular documents of 1972 and 1974, the postconciliar documents of the Holy See, the writings of the Founder ? especially the original Constitutions and Rules ? and finally, the input from Oblates obtained through the questionnaire issued by the revision commission of 1975 [37]. It made a particular effort to adapt itself to the international character and the new living conditions of the Congregation. In a style particular to constitutions, which are neither simple exhortation, nor a spiritual, pastoral or legal treatise, the text contained elements that were both inspiring and juridical and expressed this in a sober concise language, with a vocabulary sufficiently perennial to avoid becoming soon outdated.

In response to a unanimously expressed request from the Congregation, the Preface of the Founder was kept in its entirety. These pages of our genuine Oblate heritage were considered by all members of the Congregation as “the very heart of the Constitutions”, “our Golden Rule”, “our founding charter”. But in order better to place ourselves in a contemporary context, the Preface were preceded by a Foreword which highlighted for us its contemporary significance.

However, in the Constitutions of 1982 use of material drawn from the Founder’s writings was not limited to the reprinting the Preface. While resisting the temptation to slip in various extracts from the first set of Constitutions recognized as being those composed by Father de Mazenod. The 1982 revision preferred to present these texts separately in relation to the modern text, upon which they cast a light which shows their fidelity to the original Mazenodian inspiration [38]. Nevertheless, some of the expressions of the Founder have found their way into the various articles of the Constitutions and have given them a particularly Oblate flavor [39].

The Constitutions are divided into three parts: the Oblate charism, formation, the organization of the Congregation. But this did not follow the precapitular draft, which had four parts. One of the major insights of the Chapter of 1980 was to unite under the single heading of “Oblate charism”, the first two parts proposed as the Mission of the Congregation and the Apostolic Religious Life. These then became the two chapters making up the first part of the approved Constitutions. The intention was to show how the call to the apostolic mission and to the religious life should be considered as two constituent components of the same life entirely dedicated to Jesus Christ in order to collaborate with him in the work of evangelization (C 2).

The chapter on mission has as its aim to bring to the fore the apostolic and missionary character of the Congregation (CC 1, 5, 7, 8). The model of our relation to Christ is that of the Apostles with Jesus the Saviour (C 3). Our mission is carried out in community and through the community of which the living Christ is the centre (CC 3, 37) and under the aegis of the Immaculate Virgin Mary (C 10). In contrast to the previous Constitutions, the text of 1982 does not describe our various ministries, but rather leaves the task of determining their apostolic priorities to the provinces – guided by a few general principles (RR 1, 2, 4, 5) [RR 7 a, b, d, e in CCRR 2000]. One can notice as well the important place allotted to the ministry for justice (CC 8, 9; R 9), a reflection of one of the major concerns of the Church in our times.

The second chapter develops the “rule of life” which draws its inspiration from the life of Jesus and the Apostles and which constitutes “the apostolic religious life”. Those who are called to follow Jesus and to share in his mission feel the need to identify with him in order to be credible witnesses of the Word they proclaim (C 11). They feel the need of a life which is true to the Gospel, of a radical conversion from the very depth of their being. Here again Christ is at the source of our commitment through the vows (C 12). He is the one who is at the centre of our life of faith (C 31) and of our community life (C 37).

The vows (section I) are presented according to the order established by Vatican II. For each one, the text evokes its Gospel origins (CC 14, 18, 24, 29). It affirms its sign value which is simultaneously a challenge to the “world” and its values, and a proclamation of the Kingdom (CC 15, 20, 25, 29). It emphasizes its communitarian dimension (CC 12, 13, 21, 26, 29). Finally, it specifies its very object and its juridical implications for the individual religious and the community (CC 17, 22, 27, 30). The life of faith (section II) needs to be nourished by a constant seeking after God, by an intense relationship with Christ. The union with God is developed as much through the ministry as through prayer and the celebration of the sacraments (C 31). As for community (section III), the text sees in it “the living cell” of the Church and of the Congregation (CC 12, 91). Our community life is at the same time a witness of the presence of Christ among us, a support of our evangelical life and the necessary condition for missionary effectiveness (CC 37, 38, 39, 76, 91).

The two other parts of the Constitutions take their meaning from the first: formation, first of all (2nd part), which has as its goal the formation of “an apostolic man, capable of living the Oblate charism” (C 46), and the organization of the Congregation (3rd part), whose structures “are set up in function of that mission”, that is, to implement the Oblate charism, structures that must remain “flexible enough to evolve with our lived experience” (C 72). It is the same case for our temporal goods which are “above all at the service of the mission” (C 150).

As for formation, the text emphasizes its continuous nature; it is presented as an ongoing process which is never finished (CC 46, 47, 48, 68). It outlines the personal responsibility of each person, a responsibility which is fundamental and essential for an effective formation (CC 47, 49, 70), along with the function of the community which will foster this progress (C 48), especially in its first stages, and with the responsibility specific to major superiors and educators (CC 49, 51). While describing the different stages of formation, this text of 1982 pays particular attention to the preparation of candidates for the novitiate (C 53, 54), as well as continued formation after entering active ministry (CC 68, 70). It seeks to make concrete application of the most recent developments in pedagogy and religious psychology.

The third part on organization of the Congregation begins with an introductory statement describing the “spirit of government” (CC 71-74). It brings to the fore the service dimension which characterizes authority (C 71) and the spirit of collegiality which should be the motivating force in the government of the Institute (C 73). The text emphasizes as well that, in the Congregation, the structures of government are at the service of the mission and of individual persons (CC 72, 76, 81, 91, 96, 125). It insists on the participation of everyone in the projects of the Institute and in the decisions taken through discernment, cooperative effort, elections, the councils and chapters (CC 72, 73, 74, 86, 90, 91, 93, 96, 108, 119, 125). It evokes once again the importance of monitoring and of periodic assessment of administrations and the tasks entrusted to them (C 74). This could be done either through reports, or by congresses and visits, or finally by the General Chapter.

Breaking away from the traditional order, the organization of the Congregation is structured as starting from the local communities, then moving to the provincial and the general level and, by so doing, affirming the importance of the local communities to ensure the vigorous life and apostolic effectiveness of both the individual members of the Congregation and the Congregation as a whole (CC 76, 77, 91, 96, 125, 126).

It should be noted that the directories developed after the 1980 Chapter [40] effectively supplemented the Constitutions and Rules. The fact that these directories had already been foreseen in the overall planning made possible a text much less encumbered by detail. Such was not the case with the previous versions of the Constitutions; they contained many elements which were dated and found their application limited to only a few areas in the Congregation.


The person who wishes to know how the Founder understood the place of the Rule in the Society and the life of each of its members need only read the conclusion of the Preface of 1826 as it appears in its entirety in all the subsequent editions of the Constitutions: “…The success of such a holy undertaking as well as the maintenance of discipline in any society make certain rules of life absolutely necessary for unity of thought and action among the members. Such unity is a body’s strength, keeping up its fervour and insuring that it lasts.”

What conviction, what enthusiasm one finds in the letters of Eugene de Mazenod as he was writing to his small religious family when he was conducting the negotiations which would lead to the February 1826 approbation. His unbounded faith in the Church, in the ministry of the successor of Peter, enabled him to see in the approbation of Leo XII a seal of approval of the newly-formed project and the Rules which guided it, an approval which could never be called into question. “They are not a nonentity, they are no longer simple regulations, merely pious directions; they are Rules approved by the Church after most minute examination. They have been judged holy and eminently suited to lead those who have embraced them to their goal. They have become the property of the Church that has adopted them. The Pope, by approving them has become their guarantor. He whom God has used to draw them up disappears; it is certain today that he was merely the mechanical instrument which the Spirit of God put into play in order to show the path he wanted to be followed by those whom he had predestined and preordained for the work of his mercy, in calling them to form and maintain our poor, little and modest Society.” [41] This approbation gave him the greatest joy because it now placed the Society on the same level as the other Religious Orders, even the most famous ones, some of which had disappeared during the Revolution. From its very inception, Eugene de Mazenod wanted his small group of missionaries to supply for the absence of these Orders.

During his 1831 retreat, the Founder drew up a selection of articles of the Rules “that explicitly express why we have been established and what we should be” [42]. For the one who joins the Society, the Constitutions and Rules present, as it were, “the prototype of the true Oblate of Mary” [43]. They teach him how, according to the spirit of his vocation, he should “walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ and his Apostles” [44]. They are for him a faithful and sure counselor which leads to doing what is most pleasing to God and most useful to himself and others… They truly lend authenticity to his works and his actions [45]. At the end of his life, they will be the norm Christ will use to judge him. [46]

The Founder grieves over the fact that a number of Oblates are wandering away from the Constitutions and that, for several, it is a closed book [47]. He insists, therefore, on more fidelity in the observance of the Rules in order to get to know them thoroughly by the concrete living of them and “draw down upon us and upon our holy ministry new blessings” [48].

The 1853 and 1857 Circular Letters [49] on the Holy Rules show clearly to what extent, to the very end of his life, Bishop de Mazenod considered this text sacred and the norm of all Oblate life. As a result, he told his sons again and again: “Let us, therefore, value these Rules as precious, let us ever keep them before our eyes, still more in our hearts”. [50]


Upon the death of Bishop de Mazenod, the concern of his successor, Father Joseph Fabre, was to maintain the Congregation faithful to the spirit of its Founder. This spirit manifested itself especially in the Holy Rules which the new Superior General in his very first circular letter exhorted his sons to observe most attentively. The soul of our Father and Founder, he wrote “lives among us in these blessed Rules which he left us as a pledge of his love, as an imperishable testimony of his great faith and of his ardent charity. These Holy Rules… I promise you most solemnly that in my hands this holy trust will not be allowed to fritter away, nor will the smallest part of this so precious gift be lost; total obedience to all their directives will be our joy and our strength.” [51]

This call to the observance of the Rules was to be the object of several subsequent circulars as well. “The Congregation will be strong within, and esteemed by others only to the extent that our Holy Rules will be faithfully observed” [52]. “It is our Holy Rules that produces unity of mind and spirit from all the minds and all the hearts; beyond the pale of these sacred ordinances, there is only the individualist spirit, the separate, individual will, the work of the individual, the individual life, and consequently, the complete destruction of the common life, the religious life.” [53]

In Circular Letter number 13, Father Fabre took up again the theme of the Holy Rules as the indispensable source of inspiration for the Oblate to renew himself unceasingly in the spirit of his vocation. He especially evoked the importance of remaining with the first ministry of the Congregation: evangelization of the most abandoned souls, especially, by the preaching of the Word of God and by the administration of the sacrament of penance, a ministry which calls for a careful preparation based on the Sacred Scriptures and theology. Moreover, according to the Rules, this ministry must be confirmed by the example of the missionary who should always look to “the example of the One in whose footsteps our vocation makes it our obligation to walk” [54]. Father Fabre, basing himself on the Preface and on the text of the Rules, extended the invitation to maintain oneself in the spirit of oblation and to arrive at this state by being faithful to the concrete practice of the vows and of the community customs. [55]

In 1874, Father Fabre returned to the same theme. In his report to the General Chapter of 1873 [56], he had given vent to his alarm that “our Holy Rules do not always exercise a serious and practical enough influence neither on the internal dispositions of the members, nor on their external actions… The spirit of solidarity and sense of the Congregation suffer the lamentable consequences” [57]. On the occasion of the promulgation of the acts of the General Chapter of 1873, he judged it an opportune moment to repeat the advice given at the beginning of his term as Superior General and he issued a circular letter dedicated entirely to the Rules [58]. “What do our Holy Rules mean to us…? They are at the very heart of our family’s existence. It is through our Holy Rules that we exist, through them that we live, through them that we make up one religious family…” [59]. But, continued Father Fabre, the Rule is not being read; it is not being meditated. And so, parish missions are neither being conducted, nor preached according to the Oblate tradition. The practice of poverty and obedience is weakening; complaints and criticisms are growing apace. Without the Rule, each one becomes his own rule. People soon become discouraged and the community breaks up. Father Fabre urges, therefore, a profound love and a faithful obedience to the Rule as the basic requirement for a fruitful ministry and to call down upon us God’s blessings. The Rule is the bulwark of one’s vocation; without it, the religious does not exist. “Our Rule is a rule of life for our souls, for our works, for the Congregation. Let us retain this character for it through our fidelity day by day and throughout our religious life.” [60]

It is especially in the circular letters which promulgated the acts of the various General Chapters, that the successors of Father Fabre in turn often reminded the Oblates of the sovereign importance of the Rule to ensure their apostolic effectiveness and the progress of their interior life. On several occasions, they made reference to the circulars of Father Fabre, which letters stood as veritable monuments of the Oblate tradition. For his part, Bishop Augustin Dontenwill, on the occasion of the centenary of the approbation of the Rule in 1926, wrote Circular Letter no. 133 addressed to the whole Congregation. “Let it be our firm conviction that, in order to walk in the footsteps of so many valiant apostles who, before our time, campaigned under the banner of Mary Immaculate, it is essential that we imitate their religious virtues. And how is it possible to realize this ideal without fidelity to the Rule, which Rule, on that blessed day of our profession, we promised to observe most faithfully until our last breath.” [61]

In this first circular letter of June 13, 1947, Father Léo Deschâtelets, the newly elected Superior General, called upon all Oblates to make a determined effort to make the Rule the centre of their lives so that the Rule could become for them “a source of apostolic enthusiasm and the basis for a strong zeal” [62]. Father Deschâtelets’ term as General was distinguished by his extraordinary knowledge of the text of the Constitutions and of Oblate tradition. All the more so because, for thirteen years (before and after the Council), he lived through three attempts to revise the Constitutions.

On the eve of the 1966 Chapter, Father Deschâtelets reminded us of the importance of the revision which the next general assembly was to undertake [63]. Once the Chapter was over and the new Constitutions were approved and printed, Father Deschâtelets presented these Rules as “the source of the spirit of renewal in the Congregation” as asked for by the Council. And on the theme, “spirit of renewal,” he wrote a whole circular letter in 1968 [64], a renewal in which the new Constitutions would be the driving force and the guide. Like all those who preceded him in office, he reemphasized the Preface as the “most vivid, most essential experience, and most unchanging thought of the Founder” [65]. At a time when the Council had just called for a renewal in the Church, for the Oblate this upturn meant “to put the Gospel and the Rule at the centre of their apostolic life” [66]. The Rule expressed the charism of the Congregation; it was the link of unity among its members. “Our power as those dedicated to proclaim the Gospel is multiplied tenfold in virtue of the spiritual strength which it imparts to us and which we draw from the Church, united by the deepest bonds of charity and obedience ? all together, Fathers and Brothers, working united in heart to promote the Kingdom of God, of which Kingdom, our apostolic religious life is the sign.” [67]

Father Jetté’s term as Superior General was the one which witnessed the conclusion of the revision of the Rules asked for by the Council. At the moment when one could say that the whole Congregation set to work to take part in this task, the Superior General, in a letter dated February 1, 1976, reminded us that “as an Oblate apostolic corps, we need some kind of structure or rule of life ? workable, not too burdensome, yet effective nevertheless ? which we accept and become truly imbued with so that we may be transformed in Jesus Christ, and our existence be given genuine consistency.” [68]

Later on, when he was announcing the completion of the 1980 Chapter’s task, Father Jetté presented the new text as a challenge to the Congregation, “the challenge of the future”. [69]

In order to achieve this, “the Constitutions need to be assimilated, interiorized. Only then will they be a source and a way of life” [70]. And the following February 17, he asked the Congregation, “We are now in possession of this gift the new Constitutions. What are we going to do with it? For it is a gift which challenges and puts us to the test… The Constitutions and Rules are already ? and will be even more clearly so, once they have been approved by the Church ? the concrete road of the Gospel, the Oblate way of living the Gospel today. It is in them and through them that we will discover Jesus Christ and learn to love people, especially the poor, as our Founder has asked us to. There is a challenge here that no Oblate can escape if he wants ‘to save his life’.” [71]“A long period of time is beginning which, in a sense, is even more important than the Chapter. It has been called ‘the period of interiorization’, a space of time during which the Constitutions and Rules are progressively to become an integral part of our lives” [72]. In order to achieve this one has to get to know the Constitutions, read and reread them while meditating on the content. “This reading of the Constitutions must be done with love, with the intent of allowing ourselves to be imbued and nourished by them. The objective of the Constitutions as a book of life is to create a new life in us, a new being, an evangelical and Oblate being, the apostolic man of whom the Founder speaks and who spontaneously acts and reacts in an Oblate way according to the Founder’s spirit.” [73]

Finally, when presenting the text approved by the Church, Father Jetté reminded the Oblates of the importance of this approbation: “The Constitutions commit the Church; that is why they must be approved by the Church”. [74] Radiating the same faith and joy that the Founder felt the day after the original approbation, Father Jetté added: “It is the Church therefore that ‘constitutes’ us what we are. She vouches to the faithful for the Gospel authenticity of the life-project we offer them” [75]. And he invited the Oblates to look toward the future with confidence: “Let us head into the future filled with great desires, with unshakable hope and courage, eyes fixed on the vastness of the apostolic field opening up before us. May Blessed Eugene de Mazenod, our Founder and Father, obtain this grace for us!” [76]